As federal regulators plan the opening of the 9.2 million acres in the southern part of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to oil and gas leasing, one Alaska industry group is urging them to broaden their outlook.
The Alaska Miners Association is advocating that the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees all activity in the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, cast a wider net in search of energy development opportunities.
“For several decades, the mining industry has been aware of the mineral potential of the southern and western NPR-A, which is known as NPR-A South,” said Steve Borell, executive director of the miners group. “That area has an absolutely huge amount of coal, the largest amount that the United States has in one place and more than the coal reserves in Wyoming and Colorado together.”
As the nation hurtles toward a seemingly inevitable energy crisis, Borell says it is irresponsible of Americans to overlook the energy potential of coal, especially since the technology required to convert coal into a hydrocarbon liquid that burns like gasoline is 70 years old and well proven.
“It’s extremely important that BLM opens this area to mineral exploration and coal claims leasing,” Borell said. “It needs to be one of the alternatives in BLM’s plan along with oil and gas leasing.”
BLM conducted scoping for the NPR-A South from June to October 2005 and issued a report on its findings late last year.
Off limits to miningBLM said the NPR-A was closed to mineral leasing as part of the creation of Pet-4 in 1923, and that intent was reinforced in the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act of 1976, which withdrew the area from all forms of entry and disposition under public land laws, including mining and mineral leasing laws.
However, the agency said the southern NPR-A contains known occurrences of phosphate rock, metalliferous oil shale, zinc, lead, silver, barite, copper, and fluorite and nearby areas hold chromium and platinum group elements as well as indications of uranium deposits.
BLM noted that the world-class Red Dog deposit is located 40 miles southwest of the planning area boundary, and Red Dog is the world’s largest producer of zinc concentrate with byproducts of lead and silver.
“Rocks of equivalent composition and age extend into the planning area where they exhibit similar mineralization,” the agency wrote in its report.
Though public interest in the area’s mineral potential is understandable, the agency said NPR-A remains off limits to coal and hard rock mining.
Act of Congress neededBorell said he realizes that it would take an act of Congress to open NPR-A South to coal and mineral leasing, but a recommendation from BLM to do so would go a long way toward convincing the Congress to consider the move.
“Do we really want to be dependent on other countries for important metals?” he asked. “We are dependent on other countries for about 25 metals that we need. Tungsten is an example. We currently get 100 percent of the tungsten we need from China.”
A hard, durable metal, tungsten is used in manufacturing such weapons as tanks and armor-piercing rounds, Borell said.
“Do we want to be totally dependent on China for our tungsten?” he asked.
“We already have an area in Alaska the size of Texas that is off limits to mineral exploration. To say we can’t look in this area that was expressly set aside by Congress for mineral exploration doesn’t make sense,” he added.